Saturday, November 24, 2012

The State of Africa

Africa represents 15 percent of the world’s population, yet only 2.7 percent of its GDP, which is largely concentrated in only five of 49 sub-Saharan countries. Just two countries—South Africa and Nigeria—account for over 33 percent of the continent’s economic output. Life expectancy is 50 years, and considerably less in those countries ravaged by AIDS. Hunger and malnutrition are worse than they were a decade ago.

At the same time, Africa is wealthy in oil, gas, iron, aluminum and rare metals. By 2015, countries in the Gulf of Guinea will provide the US with 25 percent of its energy needs, and Africa has at least 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. South Africa alone has 40 percent of the earth’s gold supply.  The continent contains over one-third of the earth’s cobalt and supplies China—the world’s second largest economy—with 50 percent of that country’s copper, aluminum and iron ore.

The slave trade and colonialism inflicted deep and lasting wounds on the region, wounds that continue to bleed. Selling oil, cobalt, and gold brings in money for the governments and its elites, but not permanent jobs or prosperity for its workers. Africans cannot currently compete with the huge—and many times subsidized industries—of the First World. Nor can they build up an agricultural infrastructure when their local farmers cannot match the subsidized prices of American corn and wheat. Because of those subsidies, US wheat sells for 40 percent below production cost, and corn for 20 percent below.  But the West's adherence to “free trade” torpedoes countries from constructing their economies. The Carnegie Endowment and the European Commission found that “free trade” would end up destroying small scale agriculture in Africa, much as it did for corn farmers in Mexico. Since 50 percent of Africa’s GNP is in agriculture, the impact would be disastrous, driving small farmers off the land and into overcrowded cities where social services are already inadequate.

One disturbing development is a “land grab” by countries ranging from the US to Saudi Arabia to acquire agricultural land in Africa. With climate change and population growth, food, as Der Spiegel puts it, “is the new oil.” Land is plentiful in Africa, and at about one-tenth the cost in the US. Most production by foreign investors would be on an industrial scale, with its consequent depletion of the soil and degradation of the environment from pesticides and fertilizers.

Africom has anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 U.S. Marines and Special Forces in Djibouti, a former French colony bordering the Red Sea. It has 100 Special Forces soldiers deployed in Uganda, supposedly tracking down the Lord’s Resistance Army. It actively aided Ethiopia’s 2007 invasion of Somalia, including using its navy to shell a town in the country’s south. It is currently recruiting and training African forces to fight the extremist Islamic organization, the Shabab, in Somalia, and conducting “counter-terrorism” training in Mali, Chad, Niger, Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon, Zambia, Malawi, Burkina Faso, and Mauretania. Since much of the US military activities involves Special Forces and the CIA, it is difficult to track how widespread the involvement is. “I think it is far larger than anyone imagines,” says John Pike of While America has put soldiers and weapons into Africa, it has  has either cut aid or used debt relief as a way of fulfilling its UN Millenium obligations. Through affordable access to AIDS medicines, aided by India’s cheap generic versions of drugs (decade ago, they cost $10,000 per person per year and a tiny fraction of desperate people received the medicines) more than 1.5 million South Africans – and millions more in the rest of Africa – get treatment, thus raising the SA collective life expectancy from 52 in 2004 to 60 today, according to reliable statistics released this month. However, in recent months, Obama has put an intense squeeze on India to cut back on generic medicine R&D and production, as well as making deep cuts in his own government’s aid commitment to funding African healthcare. In Durban, the city that is home to the most HIV+ people in the world, Obama’s move resulted in this year’s closure of AIDS public treatment centres at three crucial sites. Meanwhile America has increased military aid, including arms sales and one thing Africa does not need is any more guns and soldiers.

In March 2013 Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa - BRICS-  network are meeting in South Africa  and is expected to carve up Africa more efficiently, unburdened by what will be derided as ‘Western’ concerns about democracy and human rights. They will "talk left" but "walk right". Its resolutions will continue to favour corporations’ resource extraction and land-grab strategies. A new ‘BRICS Development Bank’ likely to be based just north of Johannesburg, will be following the existing agenda.

In July, BRICS  sent $100 billion in new capital to the IMF to bail-out the banks exposed in Europe. South Africa’s contribution was only $2 billion (R17.5 billion), a huge sum for Gordhan to muster against local trade union opposition. Explaining the SA contribution – initially he said it would be only one tenth as large – Gordhan told Moneyweb last year that it was on condition that the IMF became more ‘nasty’ (sic) to desperate European borrowers, as if the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish poor and working people were not suffering enough!

The  BRICS are not "anti-imperialist" but instead the deputy-sheriffs for global corporations. Doesn’t the Brazilian expansionist policy in Latin America and Africa correspond, beyond the quest for new markets, to an attempt to gain control over sources of raw materials – such as ores and gas in Bolivia, oil in Ecuador and in the former Portuguese colonies of Africa, the hydroelectric potential in Paraguay – and to prevent potential competitors such as Argentina from having access to such resources? The definition of Brazil as an imperialist power may seem excessive because it is associated with an aggressive military policy. But this is a narrow perception of imperialism. It remains globalisation. Africa is a battleground for internecine conflicts between all imperialist powers, large and small. 

Adapted from here

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